Hope springs eternal in St. Louis?
Three things that the San Jose Sharks were counting on this season — Erik Karlsson’s return to dominance, a more impactful bottom-six, and a stouter team defense — earned the Sharks a 2-1 shootout victory over the Blues on Wednesday. This salvaged a series split for San Jose.
I’ll talk more about Karlsson and Marcus Sorensen here, get to the team defense in my “Winning Play” later.
No matter what happens to the Sharks this year, for at least one night, Doug Wilson and Bob Boughner’s blueprint for success came to life.
The question, of course: Was this showing “one night only”?
In Sweden, Valborg is a celebration of the coming of spring. It’s marked by a community bonfire, traditionally thought to ward off evil spirits.
For Swedes Karlsson and Sorensen, their 2019-20 campaigns got them the evil eye from many a San Jose Sharks fan.
Coming off May 2019 groin surgery, Karlsson never looked quite the two-time Norris Trophy winner. Meanwhile, Sorensen appeared snake-bitten all season, scoring just seven goals after a breakout 2018-19.
Consider last night a cleanse.
“Best he’s looked so far this season,” Boughner said of Karlsson. “He looked like he had his legs tonight. He had a lot more jump in his step.”
Nifty footwork by EK65 here pic.twitter.com/eLYN2tjubX
— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) January 21, 2021
The San Jose Sharks bench boss continued: “He was sort of the quarterback of a lot of our exits out of the d-zone, hitting guys with speed.”
Just call Karlsson Lamar Jackson.
Per SPORTLOGiQ, in All Situations, Karlsson led all skaters with 16 Controlled Exits (meaning he skated the puck out of the defensive zone by himself) — the closest Shark was Brent Burns (13), the closest Blues were Brayden Schenn and Justin Faulk (10). And he led all Sharks with five Completed Stretch Passes (six other Sharks each had one).
This wasn’t just a defensive zone thing either. He also led all skaters with 1:16 in Offensive Zone Possession Time — Ryan O’Reilly was next closest at 00:59. If it seemed like the puck was following Karlsson on a string at times, you weren’t wrong.
Donato, on the Erik Karlsson experience: "He does a lot of things that even to hockey players, it's hard to understand…It's just fascinating to watch. Sometimes, it's hard to focus and worry about yourself during a game." pic.twitter.com/UFnYfDQx0Y
— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) January 21, 2021
Of course, winning hockey isn’t just about the superstars.
“I believe the third and fourth lines created some of our best o-zone shifts tonight,” Boughner said, “when we needed it.”
The star of this show was Sorensen, who beat Torey Krug not once, but twice on this shift, to tie the game:
— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) January 21, 2021
It was perfect timing: Sorensen (20) explodes on the puck just as the Mario Ferraro (38) shot arrives. And while Krug (47) is deceptively strong, Sorensen’s hunger wins the day.
There’s a lot of complaining about Sorensen’s hands, but you have to take a player for who he is — Sorensen isn’t Logan Couture. As long as he’s getting a lot of chances — and along the way, pushing the pace with his speed, providing energy, and killing penalties — he’s very valuable. A goal here and there is a bonus.
Back to Boughner’s point about Dylan Gambrell and Patrick Marleau’s lines excelling in the offensive zone, Sorensen actually tied for the team lead (with Timo Meier) with two Scoring Chances Off the Rush, all situations. Two doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but that’s a quarter of San Jose’s total output, compared to seven for St. Louis.
That figure also doesn’t include his goal — so all in all, it was a pretty fly night for a fourth-line guy.
For Sorensen and the rest of the San Jose Sharks’ bottom-six, the question is, can they push the play like this on a consistent basis? If they can provide a solid group of top-six forwards some regular support…
Similar question for Karlsson: Can he return to dominating on a nightly basis? If he can, he can transform the entire team…
If so, the San Jose Sharks may play deeper into the spring than most expect.
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